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Relief fund misuse and Fadnavis’ misplaced priorities

By Sapan Kapoor

Over 650 debt-ridden, wretched farmers have committed suicides in BJP-ruled Maharashtra in this year alone. The extent of the problem can be realized by the fact that the state government has declared 14,708 villages as drought-hit.

The Bombay High Court has even issued notice to the Devendra Fadnavis-led government seeking its response on the increasing number of farmer suicides in the state due to drought.

“Tell us what steps you are taking and what the ground level situation is,” a bench of justices Naresh Patil and S B Shukre asked.

The government pleader informed the court that farmers were being counseled by psychiatrists, loans and electricity charges were being waived, banks and cooperative societies were told not to recover loans.

It is a pity that when the state is reeling under such a severe crisis, a query filed under the Right to Information Act by activist Anil Galgali has revealed that CM Fadnavis granted Rs 8 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for a government employee’s dance group Sachivalaya Gymkhana’s visit to Thailand from December 26-30 last year.

Fadnavis, however, denied any wrongdoing over the alleged misuse of relief fund.

“The Chief Minister’s Relief Fund has separate accounts for drought relief. For cultural activities, 25 per cent of the fund is reserved. Out of that we sponsor people for cultural activities,” Fadnavis said.

This apparent insensitivity and callousness shown by the Chief Minister and his party over this pressing issue should be condemned in no uncertain terms. But, he is not the only one in the saffron party who has been accused of being injudicious in his approach in dealing with sensitive issues. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s incessant, whirlwind foreign trips to 20 countries from June 2014 and June 2015, an RTI query has revealed, has cost the exchequer over Rs 37 crore as well, inviting sharp criticism from various sections of the society.

I am in no way suggesting that our PM should give his world tour, selfie spree a break and instead look at the plight of poor farmers, for his supporters claim that his visits abroad – twice to the USA – have helped India in getting business and much needed foreign investment.

I am all for investment and business coming to India, for that will bring along with it jobs for the unemployed youth who rallied behind the PM during his election campaign and voted for him in large numbers.

CM Fadnavis and PM Modi have, however, failed to understand that in a country like India where over 60 per cent people live below the poverty line, the government ought to get its priorities right and ensure optimum use of available resources.

Thus, Rs 8 lakh that Fadnavis showered upon the babus for their junket from his relief fund or over Rs 37 crore that PM Modi spent on his world tour could have perchance saved many lives. For since December 2014 to October this year over 650 farmers have been forced to commit suicide. But, perhaps expecting humanity, moral righteousness and due consideration from our leaders seems like asking for too much of them.

When a BJP leader draws a puppy analogy while speaking about the brutal murder of two Dalit children, when a Sadhvi uses expletives against a community during an election speech, when a Union Minister terms Dadri lynching as an ‘accident’ and when the head of a state gets his priorities wrong, we should look within and introspect.

As Joseph de Maistre, a French philosopher, once said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

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